based on "Talamore at Oak Terrace" by Dr. James Hilty. Edited for the web site. The complete paper with references is available in our archives.
Talamore at Oak Terrace | Early History | Pine Run farm | McKean Manor House | Horace Trumbauer | McKean Divorce Scandal | Pine Run Country Club | Banker's Country Club | Oak Terrace Country Club ~ Wingels | The Old Oak | Slamming Sam Snead | Archdiocese of Phila | Bud Hansen | Realen | Making of a Golf Course | Rebuild 1993-1995
“Slammin’ Sammy” Snead Comes to Oak Terrace.
Sunday, June 11, 1961 was a banner day in Oak Terrace’s history. Following much fanfare, Sam Snead arrived for an exhibition match against Gene Sarazen. Between them, these two golf titans had won a dozen major tournaments. Snead, who turned 49 two weeks earlier, had won more PGA tournaments (58) and more money ($400,000) than any man in history. Unfortunately, Sarazen injured his back just a few days before the match and was unable to compete. Filling in for Sarazen was Al Besselink, Philmont’s colorful head pro who was also a PGA tour player. Sarazen’s late withdrawal did not leave time enough to change the commemorative programs. One of programs, containing Sarazen’s biography but omitting any mention of Besselink, survives in the archives of the Historical Society of Montgomery County.
Newspapers predicted Snead would eclipse the Oak Terrace course record of 65 set the year before by club champion Harvey Smith, a Philadelphia fireman who led Oak Terrace that year to an undefeated season in the Suburban Team Matches. Runner-up in the 1960 Pennsylvania Amateur championship, Smith was a major force in Philadelphia area competitions. The better ball of partners match pitted Smith and Besselink against Snead and John Kelly, the congenial host professional.
Snead arrived at Oak Terrace fresh from Puerto Rico and a victory in the Canada Cup, looking ahead to the US Open scheduled to begin that Thursday at Oakland Hills CC in Michigan. Snead was a sentimental favorite to win the one major that eluded his grasp. No less than Arnold Palmer, winner of the 1960 Open had recently described Snead as “the greatest golfer who ever lived.”
Snead did not disappoint. On the first hole, a par five, Snead drilled a four-wood second shot to within five feet of the pin, missed his eagle putt, but settled for birdie. He then canned a six-footer for birdie on the second hole and went on to record a total of five birdies, against two bogies. One of the bogies came when Snead missed the green on a par four and stubbed his chip trying to execute an Oak Terrace flop shot. Snead shot a three-under par 68 without making any putt over six feet on the small tricky greens. The 68 marked Snead’s fourteenth consecutive round of 70 or under.
Snead and Kelly combined to shoot a seven-under par better ball of 64, besting Besselink and Smith by two shots. John Kelly helped Snead by holing three lengthy chip shots, one for an eagle. The club champion, Harvey Smith acquitted himself well, recording a two-over 73 (one more than Besselink). Snead praised Smith’s round, saying he was glad the Oak Terrace club champion was not on the PGA tour, “because he’s good!” Two years later, Smith lost the Philadelphia Open to Besselink in an eighteen-hole playoff.
The Snead exhibition was Oak Terrace’s brightest moment. Still discussed over forty years later, the match is now a piece of local golf lore. Pictures taken at the match adorn local pubs and restaurants. Snead, by the way, played well in the 1961 Open later that week, finishing seventh, one stroke behind Palmer and Ben Hogan, five behind Jack Nicklaus (then a 21-year old amateur and the runner-up to Palmer the year before), and nine behind the winner, Gene Littler. Oak Terrace members felt privileged to see Snead, no longer at the peak of his game, but fast becoming an iconic attraction for the growing sport.
Dr. James Hilty
Dr. James W. Hilty, retired Professor of History and Dean of Temple's Ambler campus, has written extensively about American politics, including Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector (Temple). He has provided political commentaries for various publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and served as historical consultant to various news media, including C-SPAN, NBC News, NPR, and others. A Temple faculty member since 1970, Hilty also wrote the introduction to Marvin Wachman's The Education of a University President (Temple).